© Illustrated by Lauren Wade
Evolution has given this popular brassica, like most every other vegetable, an arsenal of anti-vegan defenses

A laundry list of healthful attributes has put kale in pole position to be the vegetable of the new decade, but the vogue green is also armed with an array of defenses geared at doing serious damage to any creature that tries to eat it. In addition to containing cyanide-like thiocyanate, kale also contains lectins associated with autoimmune disease, and antinutrients that keep your body from absorbing vitamins and minerals.

Comment: Antinutrients - Your key to bad health
Lectins are natural proteins that have a large variety of roles. They are amongst the most fascinating and stimulating of all biological compounds, and I have no doubt that they play a major role in many "unexplained " diseases. I think of them as "Hannibal Lectins" as they remind of the devious criminal mastermind in the shock horror movie "Silence of the Lambs.' Lectins are like master code-breakers. The cells of our bodies are studded with receptors which are like code pads to ensure stimulation only under the correct circumstances. Lectins have the ability to crack these codes and stimulate the receptors causing a variety of responses- covering basically the full repertoire of the cell and even tricking the cell into doing things it normally cannot do. They also have a knack for bypassing our defenses and "getting behind the lines", and then they can travel all over the body causing harm. They can, for example:
  • strip protective mucus off tissues,
  • damage the cells lining the small intestine- disrupting the microscopic fingers called villi and microvilli,
  • get swallowed whole by the small intestine cells ("pinocytosis")
  • bind to cells including blood cells causing a clot to form (hence they were initially called "haemagglutins")
  • make a cell act as if it has been stimulated by a hormone-
  • stimulate a cell to secrete a hormone
  • promote cell division at the wrong time
  • cause gowth or shrinkage of lymphatic tissue ("outposts" of white blood cells)
  • cause enlargement of the pancreas
  • cause cells to present codes (HLA's) that they normally should not use
  • cause cell death (apoptosis)
Lectins break down the surface of the small intestine, stripping it of mucus and causing the cells to become irregular and leaky. Some lectins make cells act as if they have been stimulated by insulin. Others cause the pancreas to release insulin. Others cause immune cells to divide in the wrong way, causing growth of some white blood cells and breaking down the control of the immune system. Others cause cells to present the wrong codes (HLA's) on their surface, tricking the immune system into thinking that intruders have been found and activating the immune system inappropriately- thus leading to "autoimmune disease" where the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system.

Autoimmune diseases are incredibly common and increase every year that a person gets older. A disordered immune system also has a much harder job recognizing and attacking the real intruders- invading germs and cancer cells (you may have heard that scientists think that most people generate many cancer cells in a life time but that the immune system cleans most of them up).

So why is it again that we're all trying to out-kale each other, consuming mass amounts of kale salad and julienne-ing leaves edgewise into dishes where it by no means makes sense or belongs?

"The amounts of these chemicals in each variety of kale varies widely," Melissa McEwen wrote recently in a piece about the potential ills of the leafy green for Hunt, Gather, Love.
"So consuming kale is like eating an uncontrolled cocktail of immunogenic and bioactive health-harming chemicals and their even more chaotic breakdown products.

And as we continue to find new, disruptive ways to eat more and more and more kale, the ecosystem will be put at risk too. As McEwen notes, "At current rates of growth, by 2350, almost all the world's cropland will be devoted to kale. The consequences to the environment will be devastating."
Can you tell that this is all a joke yet?

Comment: Not a joke when you read the comment above about antinutrients!

McEwen, who writes about evolutionary biology and food, isn't making up these facts - but all plants contain defenses geared at keeping other animals from eating them.

Really, the satire is more an object lesson on how just about any food can be made out to be utterly horrendous. "But when you see an article that demonizes a food, think about whether or not there are citations and follow those citations."

That being said, I'm ready for lettuce to make a comeback.